Like many of his successful contemporaries, John Lawley was a bit of a polymath. He farmed, ranched cattle, helped build the Bale grist mill, advised Coombs on the layout of Napa and conferred with Sam Brannon on the route for the rail line to Calistoga. He even served as county coroner. But it is the Old Lawley Toll Road that serves as his legacy and today represents one of the gems of local cycling climbs.
Length: 3.4 Miles
Ascent: 1113 FT
Elevation: 1519 FT
Average Gradient: 8%
Maximum Gradient: 15.2%
Prevailing scents: gunpowder and saddle leather
Soundtrack: God Willing and The Creek Don’t Rise by Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs
In the mountains the sun sets up in ribbons so high,
it’s like I don’t never wanna get old… don’t ever wanna die.
Wine from Nearby: Jericho Canyon
Video of the Climb: YouTube
Visit this ridewithgps page for additional details including Cue Sheet or route file export options.
Old Lawley Toll is the ying to Diamond Mountain’s yang. Exposed and brutally hot in summer, there is no place to hide on this road. This calls to mind the legends of Highwaymen who regularly held up the coaches as they came and went from the mining camps in Lake County. Stage holdups were so prevalent that local newspapers would report,”Stage was robbed again today, at the usual place.” Judging from all the bullet holes in the various signs, the locals still enjoy their firearms.
Completed in 1868, this road is just a wagon-width wide. Like some now-paved goat path in the Dolomites, Old Lawley Toll is a climbers dream. Sure the road surface is a bit rough in spots, but of all the times I’ve climbed it, I’ve only had one car pass me.
When you reach the top you meet the road that meant the end of the Toll’s viability. Variously known as the Calistoga Grade, Lake County Highway or, as locals simply call it, Highway 29. Surprisingly packed with long-distance commuters, the cars go fast with the confidence of knowing every crack, knowing the arc of every curve. These are not cars used to seeing cyclists. So, the choice is to head down the pocked Toll Road or to gather up every bit of descending talent you have and head down to Calistoga via 29. Pleasures and accomplishments are earned with either route.